The age of b-sides is not, mercifully, dead (the just-released Iron & Wine single for “Boy With a Coin” for instance); however, many artists are starting to take different approaches for releasing non-album material, perhaps because of their own innovative ideas or at the behest of major record labels, who claim to be having enough of a problem selling full-length discs in the mp3 era, never mind CD singles.  Who knows what the future holds in store for Pearl Jam after its J Records debut featured not one accompanying single with an b-side, despite several cruel teases name-dropped in pre-album promotional materials.  I spent quite a bit of time a few weeks ago seeking some of these tracks out, I won’t name them now and get all riled up again.

“Leatherman”, one of the few original b-sides not to be included on 2003’s Lost Dogs compilation, exists fully and happily in later years of the golden age of CD singles.  If you want the studio version, you’re going to have to track down a copy of the “Given to Fly” single.  It’s also notable as an example of a b-side that was recorded specifically for that purpose.  Was it ever going to find its way onto Yield? Not a chance, but bands often record b-side material intentionally, to give at least a small (and loyal) audience to their experiments, in-jokes, etc.  “Leatherman” displays Vedder’s growing fondness for pop melodies and the ’60s garage rock that preceded ’70s punk.  Too lightweight and specialized in its theme for an album (unless that album was full of stylistically similar quasi-superhero theme songs for obscure historical characters), it nonetheless got a chunk of the band’s studio time.  The results speak for themselves, for better or worse according to taste.  I find the song wonderfully cheeky, and despite its bizarre concept, relatively unselfconscious.  I remember feeling heartened by “Leatherman” in the winter of ’97/’98 after I had just started college, that the band could feel so relaxed and upbeat to record such a nerdy, fun little song, and it heartens me still.


~ by Michael on July 10, 2007.

6 Responses to “Leatherman”

  1. for some reason i’ve always loved “leatherman” an inordinate amount. good wholesome fun.

    i wonder why it wasn’t on lost dogs — any ideas?

  2. Nodody really knows dan, I think “Leatherman” is the only true b-side not to make lost dogs. So with that knowledge, I will guess it didn’t make the album because PJ didn’t have an alternate version of ‘Leatherman’ recorded. All the other B-Sides are alternate versions such as ‘Alone’, ‘Black Red Yellow’, ‘U’, ‘Footsteps’, ‘Wash’, and ‘Dirty Frank’. There are also alternate versions for ‘Hard to Imagine’ and ‘Drifting’. But then again Yellow Ledbetter, Dead Man, and the Riot Act b-sides are the original versions so that basically throws my theory out the window.

    This song was written for Ed’s good friend Tim Robbins. Tim told Ed about the real life Leather Man, who was from the NY area during the ummm… 1880’s I think?

  3. Anybody besides me want to believe in a “Betterman”, “Nothingman”, “Leatherman” mini rock opera trilogy? I’m sure they’ve been played together…I’m sure there’s a story/theme that links the three together…even if there isn’t…I know I could make one up…But is there? Is the -man suffix just a coy ploy to make me think the songs are related even though they’re not? If there’s no relation, why don’t other songs have the -man suffix? (“Marker in the Sandman”, anyone?) So, conspiracy theorists, is there more to the -man story? I think so, and won’t trust you if you don’t, and probably won’t if you do, too. (the conspiracy theoristman poem)

  4. AND, I humbly submit that it is “Leatherman”‘s place within the -man trilogy that prevented it from being on Lost Dogs. It’s just one movement of the larger oeuvre, so to speak. Please don’t waste time trying to prove me wrong. It’s all just irrelevant irreverence.

  5. There’s too much drug use on this thread 🙂

  6. The failure to include “Leatherman” is the one real disappointment I had with “Lost Dogs.” I think it is the essential B-side…a completely un-self-conscious, throw-away tune that still manages to rock. I love it. Unfortunately, my CD single of “Given to Fly” was misplaced (or perhaps played to the point of non-functioning) quite a long time ago. I need to track this song down again. I miss “Leatherman.”

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